© Kat Morgan 1999/2000
In Name Only
Chapter 43: Homecoming
Nick shouldered his bag, and pulled his hat down further over his face. The scraggly beard he was sporting should have been enough to throw people off, but he could never be too careful. All he wanted to do was get home, cuddle up with the dogs and relax. A mob scene in the airport was not something he was interested in.
He looked around for one of Brianís familiar "no, I am not anyone famous" get-ups, but couldnít see him anywhere. He was probably running late. Damn. Nick knew he should have called earlier, maybe even last night, but wanted to postpone dealing with all the issues heíd have to once he came back. So not calling Brian until he was in the air was once of his delaying tactics.
He wasnít even sure why heíd called. He could have gotten home on his own: Orlando did have taxis, after all. But it had seemed like a good idea. A chance to catch up on the news, and find out what he would have to deal with when he arrived at the studio in a couple of days. Heíd avoided contact with anyone for weeks. Ignoring Brianís, Kevinís, and especially, Katís phone calls.
Heíd been surprised himself by how deeply he felt hurt by the baby announcement. He wasnít that stuck on her, was he? I mean, heíd had a few other relationships, admittedly none that had lasted, since heíd admitted his feelings to Kat. Surely if she meant that much to him he couldnít have done that? So why did knowing sheíd slept with someone, that she was carrying his child, hurt so much?
Heíd been trying to figure it out for weeks, and was no further ahead now than he had been then. Even his family had noticed. Heíd just start staring off into space, not noticing what was going on around him. Aaron had taken advantage of it: using it to spring practical jokes on him when he wasnít expecting them. It had made him wary, but hadnít stopped the habit. His mother and his father had both taken him out for long walks or boat trips, trying to get him to open up. But how could he tell them what he was feeling when he wasnít sure himself?
Well, when you canít get answers from running away from the situation, its probably better to come back and face it. So here he was. In Orlando. In an airport. Waiting for Brian. Where the hell was he?
"Hi," a soft voice said from behind him.
Leighanne, he thought and spun around. His jaw dropped.
"Stop that. You look like a fish."
"I threatened Brian within an inch of his life if he didnít tell me as soon as he heard anything from you. He called to say you were on your way back. So I told him Iíd pick you up."
"Nick, youíve been away for a couple of months. Enough time for me to intimidate the hell out of B-rok. I knew youíd call him before anyone else. So I just made sure that his first call after yours would be to me."
He continued to stare at her.
"Can I get a hug, please?"
He opened his arms and she held him close. As close as she could with that huge stomach. God, how far along was she? He closed his arms around her, a shiver going through him. It felt so good. And damn, she smelled fantastic.
"Stop sniffing my hair."
He laughed. How could she always do that to him? "Fine. You look great."
"I look as big as a whale. Do you want help with your bags?"
"Iím pregnant, Nick, not sick. Come on, the carís this way. Cute beard, by the way."
"Going for the complete Kurt Cobain look."
"With that Carter smile? I doubt he ever lit up a room the way you can."
Compliments. He couldnít take compliments. "Why are you here? I can get home on my own. I mean if B isnít coming."
"Brian is not coming. I am driving you home. And I want to talk to you."
"I donít know if I am up for this."
"Tough. You never returned my calls. So I am taking advantage of the situation now, and making you listen to me now." She put his shoulder bag in the trunk and turned to him, a grin on her face. "The others have learnt a powerful lesson since youíve been away: donít piss off the pregnant lady. Your turn for class."
"Ha ha. Sorry, itís not going to work, Kat. We can talk some other time. Not right now. I just want to go home."
"Ha ha, back at you. Iíll take you home. And we will talk. I have your luggage hostage now. One false move and Iíll start auctioning off Carter underwear here and now."
"Always looking for a way to get more money for Howieís lupus or Brianís heart foundation," she responded smugly.
He looked at her with narrowed eyes and a firm set to his jaw. "What is with you? Canít you leave me alone?"
She hugged him. "No, Nick. I canít. I need you. I need your friendship. What Iíve done to hurt you over the past while is unforgivable and I really need to talk to you. Please." She was begging again. Kat never begged, and sheíd done it twice in the past few minutes.
The drive was uncomfortable. Nick wouldnít talk, not even small talk. He wouldnít even look at her. He just stared out the window.
Maybe this hadnít been a good idea after all.
When Brian had called this morning, waking Howie and her up, it had made perfect sense.
"Kat? Itís B. Nickís back."
She had sat up quickly, knocking Howieís arm off of her. "What? When?"
"He just called. Heís landing in about an hour. Iím going to pick him up."
"No. Iíll do it."
"Kat, do you think thatís a good idea?" Brian was beginning to regret his promise to contact Kat as soon as he heard from Nick.
"Yes. Brian, if I donít take this chance now, heíll keep on avoiding me. I have to talk to him. I hurt him so badly." Kat had finally told Brian about what had happened that night in LA. Not about Kevin, but about how sheíd tried to use Nick. Heíd been livid, and she hadnít blamed him. She was still surprised heíd agreed to let her know how Nick was doing, if he ever got around to returning anyoneís calls.
Brian sighed. "I donít like it. And heíll blame me if it goes badly."
"Please, Brian. Give me a chance. Iíll tell him I threatened you or something."
He laughed. "Heíll take one look at your stomach and know I could take you if it came down to fistfight."
"No, you couldnít." Kat smiled, knowing sheíd won. "Iíd just keep putting Junior in the way. Youíd never hit a pregnant lady."
"Who you calling a lady?"
"Ha ha, B-rok. Thatís my line. So, itís okay? Youíll let me go get him?"
Brian nodded, then realized she couldnít see that through the phone. "Yeah. But remember; you threatened me."
"You got it. Thanks B. I love you."
"Hey, Iím a married man!" he protested laughingly.
"Yeah. A married man you gets to spend more time at home in bed with his wife."
"Oh. Good idea. See you." He hung up quickly and Kat couldnít help but laugh. Nope. That honeymoon wasnít over. It probably never would be.
"Whatís up?" Howie asked sleepily as she climbed out of bed. Theyíd been up late reading and talking and fallen asleep together in his bed.
"Nickís flying in. Iím going to pick him up at the airport."
"Oh." There was so much more he wanted to say. The days when he got to spend time alone with Kat seemed so few and far between. If Kevin hadnít gone back to Kentucky for a few days, he wasnít sure heíd ever get to see Kat. Now Nick was back. Howie was the only person who knew the full story about that night, and he knew how much Kat wanted to clear things up. But still, it was another person who was taking her away from him.
"Damn, I need to find a boyfriend," he muttered under his breath.
Kat emerged from the bathroom, showered and wrapped in a terrycloth dressing gown. "What?"
"Nothing. Good luck."
"Thanks, D." She came over to the bed and gave him a kiss, pulling a playful face at his morning breath. "I need to apologize to him. This has been hanging over my head for months. I really need to do it."
"I know. Remember? Howie Ė understanding husband?"
She chuckled. "Howie Ė incredible husband." She looked at him thoughtfully. "I wonder what would have happened to us if you werenít gay?"
It was a question neither of them had ever asked before. Heíd never even thought it; his sexuality was a given. "I donít know. I do know this would be mine in every sense if I werenít," he replied, his hand caressing the gown over her belly.
"Maybe. Then again, maybe we would never have met. Despite it all, I think that would have been the worst thing. Never getting to know you." She kissed his cheek. "Gotta get dressed and go. Iíll see you later."
Howie stared pensively after her.
"Hi guys!" Nick said joyously as he was bowled over by several very excited dogs. "They look good," he said to Kat, a smile on his face.
"Yes, well, they had lots of people pampering them, but they missed you terribly."
"You came by and fed them?" That wasnít something heíd expected. Heíd asked Brian to look in on them, but hadnít expected anyone else to. Especially not Kat.
"We all did. They even got to stay at several houses over the past while. AJís still annoyed; they intimidated the hell out of Panda and Bear. And I think Kevin wants you to replace one of rugs, but I told him not to be a big baby."
He sat on the floor, surrounded by wriggling canines. "Okay which one of you went on Trainís carpet?"
"Actually, it was using it as a chew toy. Little pieces of blue cloth all over the house. You know how he is about keeping his house neat."
Nick laughed at the image. "Iím surprised he babysat them."
"Brian told him to. Tough man, that B-rok."
Nick sighed. "But you managed to intimidate him," he said, reminding her why she was there.
"Yeah." She offered him a hand to get up, but he brushed it off and climbed to his feet, going to the kitchen followed by a devoted doggie trail. He topped up their bowls and then came back in to the living room where Kat had waited.
"Iím sorry I hurt you, Nick. I didnít mean to. I just wasnít thinking, andÖ. Damn. This was much easier when I practiced it in front of the mirror." Kat sat down heavily on the couch.
"Why? Why did you lead me on like that? And why didnít you come to me when, whenÖ" he gestured at her stomach.
She glanced down, covering herself protectively. She sighed. "Itís complicated. This wasnít supposed to happen. There was so much going on at the time. More than anyone knew. And you were there, when I needed someone. But I couldnít do it. I couldnít hurt you that way."
"So you hurt me in another way instead." The gloom was thick in his voice.
"I didnít mean to. Honestly, Nick. I didnít want to hurt anyone. I tried to leave."
"Yes, we all know about that. But you didnít."
"Should I have? Howie didnít want me too. KevinÖ Even AJ said heíd look for me if I dared try to go. But I never heard your opinion."
Nick groaned. "Donít put this on me, Kat. I donít know what you should have done. I still donít. Iím still trying to figure out why you went to someone else when you knew how I felt."
"I couldnít Nick. Like I said, itís complicated. The fatherÖ Look, Nick, it didnít work out the way it was supposed to. None of it. But I told you often enough that I wasnít going to go out with you. That wasnít going to change."
"Not even for that one night? It wasnít my idea then," he pressed.
"No. That was me. I admit it. I knew how you felt and I was going to use it to my own advantage. It was a cruel and horrible idea. And I couldnít do it. I care too much about you to use you like that. I am so sorry, Nick. I hope you can forgive me." She hung her head, trying to wipe away her tears before he saw them.
"I donít love you, you know," he said suddenly.
"You do. But you are not in love with me. Iíve always known that Nick. That was what you needed to know. That was what I have been trying to tell you for so long. I love you, the same way you love me. But something other, that isnít there."
"So why does this hurt so much? I know I am not Ďin loveí with you, but it still hurts."
She grasped his hand, squeezing it tightly. "Because you hadnít realized it yet. And I betrayed your trust before you had a chance to figure that out. Youíd put me on some unattainable pedestal; it was hard for you when I fell off of it."
What she was saying made sense, but it still wasnít helping. "I need more time, Kat. Youíve said your piece, now let me think."
She nodded her head and let go of his hand. "You know where I am if you want to talk. And, Nick?" He raised his head. "Donít get mad at Brian. He didnít agree to this to hurt you in anyway. I justÖ"
"Threatened to beat him up or something."
She grinned. "Yes."
"Donít worry. Iím not going to yell at him. Iíll trounce him the next time we are playing basketball, but thatís about it."
"Thanks, Frack." Kat got up and kissed him on the cheek before heading to the door, trying not to trip over the dogs.
"Kat?" He stood in the doorway, watching her climb into the car.
"A question. Were you pregnant that night? I meanÖ"
"I know what you mean." Kat took a deep breath. Damn him for figuring out that. "Yes. I was. I didnít know it yet, but I was."
The look of torment on his face almost broke her. But he took a deep breath, said "thank you for telling me," and shut the door.